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SALT LAKE CITY — Amid mortar attacks in stifling heat, Sam Lima decided he should scout for a civilian job once his stint in Iraq was over.
Even the Army vet was surprised when he was hired for the state of Utah before he even came stateside — landing a job that allows him to apply the skills he learned in the military.
"I wasn't expecting things to move that fast," Lima said.
Two months ago, Lima, 29, was at Camp Taji near Baghdad performing fuel tests on the JP-8 fuel used by Chinook and Apache helicopters.
A native of Brazil who grew up in Connecticut, Lima worked as a petroleum lab technician in Iraq, confirming the quality and safety of fuel for use in the military's arsenal of helicopters and planes.
A buddy of his got a job working for the state, so in some down time, Lima went online and found an open position for a motor fuels specialist with the Utah Department of Agriculture and Food.
It wasn't long after when he got a phone call from Brett Gurney, weights and measures supervisor in the agency's Division of Regulatory Services.
"He asked me when I could start, and that is when things got a bit complicated," Lima said.
Lima returned to Utah, where his wife is a native of Cache County, on Nov. 17. By Nov. 21, he was working in his new position for the state, getting trained on the analysis necessary for collecting samples of fuel from Utah's gas stations.
In the lab, Lima tests fuels for octane levels, analyzes the presence of water and checks the amount of ethanol. His job also entails responding to consumer complaints lodged by citizens who feel they have purchased poor-quality gasoline or been swindled at the pump because of an inaccurate gas dispensing reading.
There is a learning curve that separates what he practiced in the field in Iraq from what he's doing in Utah, and Lima admits the working conditions are far, far quieter.
"There's no mortars here," he said, smiling. "That's good."
Lima said his base was under mortar shell attack two or three times a month, with protection only afforded by huge barricades called T-walls because of their shape.
"One time we were running tests on a fuel at a location and nine to 12 mortars were fired at us," he said, with the frequency of such attacks earning him the Combat Action Badge.
With Iraq behind him and a new career ahead of him, Lima can concentrate on the immediate challenge at hand: getting used to the cold.
"It's harder than I thought," he said.